Wednesday 10 January, 2018

Psalm 78

A maskil of Asaph. 1 My people, listen to my teaching. Pay attention to what I say. 2 I will open my mouth and tell a story. I will speak about things that were hidden. They happened a long time ago. 3 We have heard about them and we know them. Our people who lived before us have told us about them. 4 We won’t hide them from our children. We will tell them to those who live after us. We will tell them what the Lord has done that is worthy of praise. We will talk about his power and the wonderful things he has done. 5 He gave laws to the people of Jacob. He gave Israel their law. He commanded our people who lived before us to teach his laws to their children. 6 Then those born later would know his laws. Even their children yet to come would know them. And they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God. They would not forget what he had done. They would obey his commands. 8 They would not be like their people who lived long ago. Those people were stubborn. They refused to obey God. They turned away from him. Their spirits were not faithful to him. 9 The soldiers of Ephraim were armed with bows. But they ran away on the day of battle. 10 They didn’t keep the covenant God had made with them. They refused to live by his law. 11 They forgot what he had done. They didn’t remember the wonders he had shown them. 12 He did miracles right in front of their people who lived long ago. At that time they were living in Egypt, in the area of Zoan. 13 God parted the Red Sea and led them through it. He made the water stand up like a wall. 14 He guided them with the cloud during the day. He led them with the light of a fire all night long. 15 He broke the rocks open in the desert. He gave them as much water as there is in the oceans. 16 He brought streams out of a rocky cliff. He made water flow down like rivers. 17 But they continued to sin against him. In the desert they refused to obey the Most High God. 18 They were stubborn and tested God. They ordered him to give them the food they wanted. 19 They spoke against God. They said, “Can God really put food on a table in the desert? 20 It is true that he struck the rock, and streams of water poured out. Huge amounts of water flowed down. But can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?” 21 When the Lord heard what they said, he was very angry. His anger broke out like fire against the people of Jacob. He became very angry with Israel. 22 That was because they didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in his power to save them. 23 But he gave a command to the skies above. He opened the doors of the heavens. 24 He rained down manna for the people to eat. He gave them the grain of heaven. 25 Mere human beings ate the bread of angels. He sent them all the food they could eat. 26 He made the east wind blow from the heavens. By his power he caused the south wind to blow. 27 He rained down meat on them like dust. He sent them birds like sand on the seashore. 28 He made the birds come down inside their camp. The birds fell all around their tents. 29 People ate until they couldn’t eat any more. He gave them what they had wanted. 30 But even before they had finished eating, God acted. He did it while the food was still in their mouths. 31 His anger rose up against them. He put to death the strongest among them. He struck down Israel’s young men. 32 But even after all that, they kept on sinning. Even after the wonderful things he had done, they still didn’t believe. 33 So he brought their days to an end like a puff of smoke. He ended their years with terror. 34 Every time God killed some of them, the others would seek him. They gladly turned back to him again. 35 They remembered that God was their Rock. They remembered that God Most High had set them free. 36 But they didn’t mean it when they praised him. They lied to him when they spoke. 37 They turned away from him. They weren’t faithful to the covenant he had made with them. 38 But he was full of tender love. He forgave their sins and didn’t destroy his people. Time after time he held back his anger. He didn’t let all his burning anger blaze out. 39 He remembered that they were only human. He remembered they were only a breath of air that drifts by and doesn’t return. 40 How often they refused to obey him in the desert! How often they caused him sorrow in that dry and empty land! 41 Again and again they tested God. They made the Holy One of Israel sad and angry. 42 They didn’t remember his power. They forgot the day he set them free from those who had treated them so badly. 43 They forgot how he had shown them his signs in Egypt. They forgot his miracles in the area of Zoan. 44 He turned the river of Egypt into blood. The people of Egypt couldn’t drink water from their streams. 45 He sent large numbers of flies that bit them. He sent frogs that destroyed their land. 46 He gave their crops to the grasshoppers. He gave their food to the locusts. 47 He destroyed their vines with hail. He destroyed their fig trees with sleet. 48 He killed their cattle with hail. Their livestock were struck by lightning. 49 Because he was so angry with Egypt, he caused them to have great trouble. In his great anger he sent destroying angels against them. 50 God prepared a path for his anger. He didn’t spare their lives. He gave them over to the plague. 51 He killed the oldest son of each family in Egypt. He struck down the oldest son in every house in the land of Ham. 52 But he brought his people out like a flock. He led them like sheep through the desert. 53 He guided them safely, and they weren’t afraid. But the Red Sea swallowed up their enemies. 54 And so he brought his people to the border of his holy land. He led them to the central hill country he had taken by his power. 55 He drove out the nations to make room for his people. He gave to each family a piece of land to pass on to their children. He gave the tribes of Israel a place to make their homes. 56 But they tested God. They refused to obey the Most High God. They didn’t keep his laws. 57 They were like their people who lived long ago. They turned away from him and were not faithful. They were like a bow that doesn’t shoot straight. They couldn’t be trusted. 58 They made God angry by going to their high places. They made him jealous by worshiping the statues of their gods. 59 When God saw what the people were doing, he was very angry. He turned away from them completely. 60 He deserted the holy tent at Shiloh. He left the tent he had set up among his people. 61 He allowed the ark to be captured. Into the hands of his enemies he sent the ark where his glory rested. 62 He let his people be killed by swords. He was very angry with them. 63 Fire destroyed their young men. Their young women had no one to marry. 64 Their priests were killed by swords. Their widows weren’t able to weep. 65 Then the Lord woke up as if he had been sleeping. He was like a warrior waking up from the deep sleep caused by wine. 66 He drove back his enemies. He put them to shame that will last forever. 67 He turned his back on the tents of the people of Joseph. He didn’t choose to live in the tribe of Ephraim. 68 Instead, he chose to live in the tribe of Judah. He chose Mount Zion, which he loved. 69 There he built his holy place as secure as the heavens. He built it to last forever, like the earth. 70 He chose his servant David. He took him from the sheep pens. 71 He brought him from tending sheep to be the shepherd of his people Jacob. He made him the shepherd of Israel, his special people. 72 David cared for them with a faithful and honest heart. With skilled hands he led them.

This Psalm traces the back and forth drama of the nation of Israel with it’s God. Israel is sometimes hot, sometimes cold. Sometimes the nation of Israel obeys the Lord, other times not. From the time of Israel’s exit from Eygpt to the time of King David, this chapter encapsulates the roller-coaster of Israel’s fortunes. I sense that the Psalmist is elevating the ideal of David’s kingly reign at the end of the chapter. David’s quality Kingship is summarised in verse 72 “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them.” (NIV)

What set David apart was his ability to match his ministry to the people with his effective leadership as the king. These are the two points found in the final verse: ‘Integrity of heart’ and ‘skilful hands’. My reflection today is the question: ‘Am I balancing this integrity and skills paradigm in my life?’ Perhaps I find it easy to reflect on and develop my inner life – to ponder my character and practise devotion to the Lord. But am I at the same time motivated to express the practical competencies that get the job done? Do I adopt a robust approach to life that sees me accept, tackle and complete those things which God has called me to? On the one hand to live without compromise (heart). On the other hand to effectively serve my calling (skills).

The ideals David’s life exemplified serve as a example to be copied. He was a shepherd, he was a leader.

Lord, Thank you for the motivation to cultivate inner purity and personal holiness. Thank you for the drive to put the gifts you have given me into practise for your Kingdom. Amen.

Written by Sam Stewart

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